GeekNights Tuesday - How We Review Tabletop Games

Tonight on GeekNights, having re-listened to many of our tabletop reviews from the last 12 years, we discuss our methodology for reviewing tabletop games. Elegance, fun economy, and rules consistency are the main factors, but there's some nuance.

In the news, PAX South badges/hotels are live, we're presenting a new panel on quitting at PAX West, TumbleSeed was too hard to make money, Kingdomino wins the Spiel des Jahres, the professionalization of esports continues with big sports names buying Overwatch League franchises, and MLB may be taking trademark action over the logo.

Things of the Day

Episode Links

I would describe your collective board game preferences as “elegant, without player boards,” but then one could enter an endless semantic argument about what constitutes an individual player board. And there are clear exceptions. Grand Austria Hotel, The Princes of Florence, and Puerto Rico all have player boards and I would describe your general view of those games as ‘favorable’.

It’s really difficult to nail down a “Geeknights doctrine,” even using your own criteria from the end of this episode.

Games I would consider “exploratory” high-interaction low-politics games with deep emergent outcomes resulting from elemental rules (Food Chain Magnate) are viewed unfavorably because they also contain explicitly designed sharp edges that produce surprising outcomes for first-time players (milestones). Tigris & Euphrates is fraught with surprises for new players, and you could play 10 times and learn some new emergent interaction every time, but is perhaps the most Geeknights game imaginable. And if you think it’s attributable to Knizia elegance, keep in mind that there are special rules to handle external conflicts between priests, tile placements that simultaneously create monuments and external conflicts, and timing concerns involving treasures, merchants, and conflicts.

Speaking of Food Chain Magnate… economic snowballs are viewed unfavorably, but Saint Petersburg is a modern classic (and what is Saint Pete, if not the most interesting pure economic snowball ever produced by HiG?)

“Knowledge of the deck” and “dozens of unique cards” are frequently criticized, but they go unmentioned in a casual review of Race for the Galaxy despite being front and center in the game’s design. Perhaps the role selection is so strong and interesting on its own that you barely notice when you subconsciously absorb the attributes shared by UPLIFT cards and the interactions created by Contact Specialist, Colony Ship, and Rebel Stronghold.

“Squishy communication rules” are a classic criticism (Battlestar Galactica) but these are part and parcel with card games. Every partnership game (Bridge of course… Euchre too) has squishy communication rules. The Grizzled (reviewed positively) has squishy communication rules. Hanabi implicitly disallows players from adopting conventions (eg. ‘I will always discard the oldest card in my hand’) in its communication rules… and then, realizing that it cannot reasonably do this, excuses itself from its own rule in the same paragraph! The rule becomes a guideline for the mindset one should adapt while playing. Hanabi was praised on the podcast for being a cooperative game with clear rules surrounding communication, and every group I have ever played with tries to create similar conventions between hands.

All to say… I still basically pick blindly when I bring games I think you might review positively to PAX. I’m honestly shocked Scott liked 1846 enough to play it again, and I’m similarly shocked Rym disliked Jump Drive because of the physical act of cumulatively scoring each round of a 5 minute game (an action I had quickly acclimated to). Ya’ll are full of surprises :stuck_out_tongue:

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I am a dumping ground of all your board games that you want to be in a library somewhere. 2018 goal is to get a system down so that with one day notice I can pack and bring them to events.

Who has been telling you Dune is a complex book? For me, the situation is the opposite of complex, it just plays out in a very well realized and satisfying way, telling the story of the rise of a dictator.

Also the characters in the book are famously non-inscrutable. Again, it’s what I like about the book! The dinner table scene is so good exactly because you see the thoughts of every single person at the table, and the politics plays out openly, inevitably, and yet somehow still interestingly.


Is scrutable a word?

Internet says yes!

I think that’s my favorite scene in the entire book. If the rapid betrayal and real plot hadn’t occurred, and the book had been Atreides playing politics to the end in the same world, I probably would have enjoyed it just as much.

I’m uncertain how much of my dislike of Dune is the book vs. ye olde sci-fi traditions. Looking forward to discussing it.

Have you guys thought about doing an episode on your top 10 (or 5, or whichever) current favorite board games? I attended a lot of your panels on games in the late 2000s and it seems like there’s been quite a bit of change since back then.

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Careful what you wish for, as some later novels in the series are pretty much that and are not good at all. There is a steep slope down of diminishing returns in this series!

How many you rolling with these days?

Would you believe in the German translation that Juliane read, they simply cut that whole section out? I was saying “The dinner table scene is one of the best bits of the book” and she kept saying “What scene are you even talking about?!?”

Turns out lots of German translations of science fiction in the 70’s was abridged too, but the abridgement wasn’t mentioned anywhere. She went back and read most of the book again in English and it made way more sense.

Another thing I noticed after revisiting this episode: when Rym addresses games with “pre-ordained” paths to victory that must be min-maxed, he identifies several games he played recently that “usually have a train theme”.

Could you be talking about Russian Railroads? We played it at PAX West and it is a game with a tension between two primary approaches (factories and trains), and most of the game is the wide tactical nuance in the middle. It could also be First Class, a game by the same designer that Scott played at Magfest which takes that same binary tension and replaces the core mechanism.

This strategic framework isn’t far removed from Puerto Rico. Some people want corn, harbors, wharves. Others want quarries, coffee, markets… everyone wants factories and turn 1 sugar. Like Puerto Rico, once everyone has analyzed these games, the tactics remain very interesting…

I would put 7 Wonders in that list, but that doesn’t make it bad. If you are going Science, you had better go all-out Science.

Also noted from this episode: It’s pronounced King-doh-meen-oh

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